The Milwaukee County Poor Farm Cemetery Project is an ongoing research initiative to reverse the anonymity and neglect that has characterized the history of this cemetery, fulfilling dual missions of ethical science and social justice for those once interred. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Department of Anthropology’s Archaeological Research Laboratory (UWM ARL) currently curates a human skeletal collection of over 2,400 individuals buried between 1882 and 1925 in the Milwaukee County Poor Farm Cemetery (MCPFC). The individuals represented were recovered from two separate archaeological excavations, the first in 1991-1992 and the second in 2013. Excavation, analysis, and reporting of 831 individuals was undertaken by UWM–Cultural Resource Management (UWM-CRM) in 2013 and completed in 2015 (Richards et al. 2016a). An osteological analysis of the second group of individuals represented by the 1991 and 1992 collection has not been completed. This collection languished in another institution’s basement for over 17 years without analysis or reporting until the UWM ARL applied for, and was granted by the Wisconsin Historical Society, final disposition of the human skeletal remains and associated funerary items. The ultimate goal of the MCPFC Project is to tell the stories of the poor of Milwaukee County, a story told through the lens of their skeletons and material goods in order to provide the recognition and inclusion denied Milwaukee’s poorest residents in death. This goal involves the design and implementation of a website to share osteological, archaeological, and historical data collected as part of the project. By doing so we intend to integrate professional archaeological practice with a bioarchaeology of the public good, demonstrate the potential of digitally accessible data, and tell the stories of the individuals buried in the Milwaukee County Poor Farm Cemetery.
The Milwaukee County Poor Farm Cemetery Project was initiated in 2008 and is a collaborative effort of the UWM ARL, UWM Anthropology Department graduate students, UWM Undergraduate Research Opportunity Students, and the staff of UWM-CRM. Milwaukee County began recording burials of indigent and unidentified individuals on the County Grounds in 1882 and continued the practice through 1974. As of 2014, four locationshave been identified as cemeteries representing the burial of perhaps as many as 10,000 individuals (figure 1).
Figure 1. Cemeteries associated with the Milwaukee County Grounds
Three of these cemeteries, Cemetery 1, Cemetery 3, and Cemetery 4 are located on the periphery of the Milwaukee County Grounds and remain undisturbed. The fourth cemetery, Cemetery 2, is located in one of the most densely used portions of the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center and has been disturbed multiple times since 1932. The focus of archaeological work has been Cemetery 2 (MI-0527, BMI-0076 Froedtert Tract) (figure 2).
Figure 2. All excavated burials, Milwaukee County Poor Farm Cemetery 2
Archaeological excavation in 2013 resulted in the recovery of 831 individuals from 632 coffins; twenty-five percent of coffin burials were determined to contain the remains of more than one individual (Richards et al. 2016a). The analysis of this collection documented a surprisingly high incidence of postmortem skeletal modification attributed to autopsy and medical dissection (Richards et al. 2016b). Archaeological excavation in 1991 and 1992 resulted in the recovery of 1,649 burials. This archaeological analysis is reported in a 1992 Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center Report of Investigation (Richards and Kastell 1993) and in a 1997 dissertation (Richards 1997). Following completion of the archaeological analysis, the human remains, material culture, and associated excavation records were moved to Marquette University of Milwaukee. However, after 17 years of “analysis” without reporting, the Wisconsin Historical Society began to explore other options. In the spring of 2008, the UWM ARL applied for and was granted final disposition of all human remains, personal artifacts, burial hardware, field notes, and field images associated with the 1991 and 1992 excavations. In May of 2008, thirty-eight faculty, staff, and student volunteers from the UWM Department of Anthropology and the UWM community participated in the transfer of 1,649 individuals from Marquette University to the UWM ARL. The College of Letters and Science and the UWM Department of Anthropology funded the purchase of 900 acid-free archival quality boxes that were designed and manufactured to fit the Archaeological Research Facility curation space. Since acquiring the skeletal collection, all burials have been inventoried and reboxed, 9,000 paper records have been scanned, and all photos digitized. Some 7% of burials exhibited mold due to water damage that occurred while stored at Marquette University, many teeth had been glued into maxillae and mandibles, and human remains had been written on with pen, pencil, Sharpie, and White Out. Thus, in addition to completing a basic inventory, it was necessary to develop a protocol to mitigate the effects of the mold, remove tape, reassociate elements improperly mixed and boxed, and otherwise stabilize the collection. While several dissertations and Masters’ theses (Dougherty 2011, Freire 2011, Hutchins 1998, Jones 2010, Milligan 2011, Schillinglaw 2010, Skinner 2015) as well as a number of conference papers detail particular aspects of research conducted on the 1991 and 1992 human skeletal remains, a single comprehensive inventory or analysis does not exist for the 1991 and 1992 collection comparable to the analysis and reporting of the 2013 collection. Integration of the two skeletal collections, excavated from two contiguous portions of Cemetery 2, is an ongoing goal of the project. Completion of the osteological analysis as well as demonstration of the utility of digitally available osteological, archaeological, and historical data will provide more visibility for the Milwaukee County Poor Farm Cemetery.
2013 Archaeological Investigations
The Milwaukee County Poor Farm Cemetery – Froedtert tract (MI-0527, BMI-0076), is located in the NEl/4, SEl/4, SW1/4, NWl/4 of Section 28, T7N, R21E, in the City of Wauwatosa, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. Froedtert Hospital received permission to disturb the Paupers Cemetery – Froedtert tract on May 21, 2013, and a contract between University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Historic Resource Management Services (UWM HRMS), the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) and Froedtert Hospital was executed on May 31, 2013. Fieldwork commenced the week of June 10, 2013, and was completed September 6, 2013. The archaeological excavation of burials was conducted in specific impact localities associated with the construction of the Froedtert Hospital Center for Advanced Care (CFAC) project and related infrastructure such as utility corridors, roads and crane tower locations. Approximately 0.48 acres (0.19 hectares) were machine stripped to facilitate burial removal, including 0.02 acres (.008 hectares) of previously excavated area that was part of excavations conducted by Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center (GLARC) in 1991 and 1992. The 2013 excavations resulted in the recovery of 632 coffin locations and a single lot assigned to a bone dump from graves previously disturbed.
Osteological analysis, material culture analysis, and spatial analysis of materials removed from the cemetery began in September of 2013 and was completed in March of 2015. Report preparation began in December of 2014 and was completed in September of 2015. The total number of individuals recovered includes 550 individuals exclusive to a coffin (294 adults and 256 juveniles), and 100 individuals recovered from mixed burials that are age exclusive (either adult or juvenile) (81 adults and 19 juveniles). Finally, seven adult sized coffins contained the remains of both adults and juveniles (6 adults and 9 juveniles). In total, coffin burial locations produced a minimum of 665 individuals including 381 adults and 284 juveniles. An additional 50 commingled lots represent an MNI of 166 that brings the total of potential individuals represented to 831.
A surprising quantity and diversity of material culture was recovered as a result of the 2013 excavations. Of the 264 mapped juvenile coffin locations, more than twice as many locations had material culture represented (n=177) as locations that did not (n=87). Of the 368 adult coffin locations, a roughly equal number of locations contained material culture (n=185) as did not (n=183). A total of 3,441 associated clothing artifacts were produced by 274 (43%, n=632) burial locations. A total of 198 whole or fragmentary personal items were recovered from 80 (13%, n=632) burial locations.
Calculations for grave density describe a density of 0.03 adult-sized graves/sq. ft. (i.e. three graves in every 100 square feet) and a density of 0.07 juvenile/infant graves/sq. ft. (i.e. seven graves per each 100 square feet). Extending the pattern of adult and juvenile/infant burials observed in the southeast corner of the former GLARC excavations to the western boundaries of the site
limits determined by the 2013 excavations, it is estimated that roughly 209 adult-sized graves and roughly 671 juvenile/infant-sized graves remain intact under and along the southern edge of Doyne Avenue.
It is recommended that great care should be taken to monitor infrastructure development that might impact these burials. Utility lines (electric, water, telephone and fiber optic) are located in and near the boundaries of the Froedtert tract cemetery (MI-0527, BMI-0076). Any work related to these utilities should be carefully monitored to avoid disturbing any more burials. Finally, any improvements to Doyne Ave undertaken by Milwaukee County should be carefully considered with the presence of these burials in mind.